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Santiago urges ‘gradual’ PDAF abolition

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago has filed a resolution calling for the gradual abolition of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (Pdaf) starting next year and tighter government rules on its use following allegations of misuse by some lawmakers.

Santiago wants the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments, Revision of Codes and Laws, which she chaired, to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the “sense of the Senate” on her proposal.

She said her proposal is for the “phase-out” of the PDAF “so that the gradual abolition will be acceptable to Congress members.” 

Santiago is proposing that the PDAF for senators be reduced from P200 million to P100 million in 2014, to P50 million in 2015 and to zero in 2016. For congressmen, the reduction should be from P70 million to P35 million in 2014, to P15 million in 2015 and to zero in 2016.

Santiago said the phase-out was the “second-best solution” to the PDAF issue, since a total abolition of the PDAF would likely meet strong opposition from Congress.

“This will give senators and congressmen time to adjust to the new rules,” she said.

Defensor-Santiago said the “best solution” would be the outright abolition of the PDAF “by reducing what has been proposed by the President in the 2014 budget for PDAF to zero.”

She said by deleting the appropriations for PDAF, the President cannot resurrect it through line item veto.

“It is important that the full amount be reduced if the legislators are serious is abolishing the pork barrel. Reducing the PDAF appropriations to even P1 is dangerous, because then the President may choose to augment the peso appropriations with several billions which is allowed under the Constitution,” Santiago said.

In explaining her bid to phase out the pork-barrel system, the senator said lawmakers “are expected to pass laws and exercise oversight functions over the Executive Department’s implementation of existing laws” and not “to build roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects.”

“We are legislators, not public works contractors. People look up to us to make serious laws that could change the lives of a great number of people or could change the way society is run or managed,” she said.

Santiago also proposed tighter rules on PDAF use, such as restricting it to “hard” projects and releases should be limited only to national government agencies.

“No public funds should be released to NGOs [non-governmental organizations]. This strict rule should be non-negotiable. In keeping with the spirit of volunteerism, NGOs are supposed to give aid to society, using funds they raised on their own, not public funds,” she said.

The senator also said local government units “should not be eligible recipients of the fund” since “releases to LGUs have been abused in the past, especially when the local chief executives are relatives of legislators.”

Santiago said the PDAF should not be released to government-owned or -controlled corporations, “which may later on be released to NGOs, fictitious or quasi-NGOs, or NGOs headed by the relatives of politicians;” and not to be used for scholarships since this was the responsibility of 125 state universities and colleges in the country.

Santiago thumbed down the proposal to designate the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) as “gatekeeper” of the PDAF.

She cited the special provision on the use of PDAF in the proposed 2014 budget, which states that “only NGOs accredited by the DSWD will be eligible as recipient or implementing agency.” 

“This proposed special provision constitutes undue delegation of the congressional power of the purse to an unelected Department Secretary.  This is a cure worse than the disease,” Santiago said.

She said this “politicizes an agency that is supposed to be apolitical, an agency responsible for improving the lives of Filipino regardless of their political color.”

“This gives the DSWD the right to choose ‘friendly’ NGOs and reject ‘unfriendly’ NGOs,” Santiago said.

Senate President Franklin Drilon supported the proposed phaseout of the PDAF which he said “appears to be feasible.”

Senate Majority Leader Alan Cayetano said he would have to see Santiago’s resolution, but said he would support “anything that will take out the graft but will ensure that projects will still go to the countryside and every area in the country.”

“It is important for senators and congressmen to have moral ascendancy to investigate the Executive. So as long as there are alleged anomalous uses of the pork, Congress is tainted,” Cayetano said.

 

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